Who Done It (Dallas)

"Who Done it"
Dallas episode
Episode no. Season 4
Episode 4
Directed by Leonard Katzman
Written by Loraine Despres
Production code 58
Original air date November 21, 1980
Guest appearance(s)

Mary Crosby as Kristin Shepard
Susan Howard as Donna Culver
Leigh McCloskey as Mitch Cooper
John Lehne as Kyle Bennett
Laurence Haddon as Franklin Horner
Gregory Walcott as Jim Redfield
Jeff Cooper as Dr. Simon Elby
Tom Fuccello as Dave Culver
Nik Hagler as Detective Frost
Lee Holmes as Doctor
Ken Farmer as Gil
Debra Stricklin
Tim Lonsdale as Cab Driver
Toni Garret
Tyler Banks as John Ross Ewing III

Episode chronology

"Who Done It" is the fourth episode in the fourth season (1980–1981) of the television series Dallas. The episode was written by Loraine Despres, and revealed who shot J.R. Ewing (played by Larry Hagman) in the third season finale, "A House Divided".[1] The perpetrator's fate was revealed in the subsequent episode one week later.[2]


For an eight-month-long period of media frenzy after the broadcast of "A House Divided" episode (wherein Dallas archvillain J.R. Ewing was shot by an unidentified perpetrator while working in his office), international oddsmakers created a set of odds for the possible culprits. The favorite was Dusty Farlow, who was Sue Ellen Ewing's lover (Sue Ellen being J.R.'s wife), with odds installed at 6:4. Sue Ellen herself was given 25:1 odds, as was J.R.'s mother Miss Ellie Ewing. At 4:1 were Sue Ellen's sister and her husband's mistress, Kristin Shepard and banker Vaughn Leland, who fell victim to a J.R. swindle.[3] After Sue Ellen's fingerprints were found on the gun in subsequent episodes she became the favorite at 3 to 1 according to some oddsmakers,[4] while others listed Kristin and Cliff Barnes as favorites (Cliff being J.R.'s rival from childhood).[5]

J.R. Ewing is a fictional character that William K. Stevens of The New York Times described as "the nastiest man on television, the Iago of Texas oilmen, the smiling snake of a star of Friday night TV's Dallas, a man so venal, so low, so mean, so diabolical that he has become an absolute delight to an estimated quarter of a billion viewers around the globe."[6] His New York Times colleague John J. O'Connor described him as "the eldest son of the oil-rich Ewing family..." who is "...a sadistic bully and a swindler" that "captured the public's imagination".[7] Prior to the episode, there were numerous people to suspect for the attempted murder:

Although generally regarded as somewhat of a rival of J.R. in the fictional world of Dallas, Gary Ewing (Ted Shackelford) was not a suspect due to his activity in the related fictional Knots Landing world. Similarly, Lucy Ewing (Charlene Tilton) had an alibi provided by liaisons with a married college professor.[12]

In order to preserve secrecy before the episode aired, multiple endings were filmed, including the aforementioned characters each firing the gun.[13]

Plot summary

After a considerable number of suspects have been identified, Sue Ellen deduces that it was Kristin who shot J.R. At her psychiatrist's office, as she is discussing the gun and how it made its way to her bedroom, she remembers that the last time it was in her possession was when she was at Kristin's condo. She finds J.R. at home, when Kristin shows up and Sue Ellen reveals all.

When Sue Ellen earlier showed up at her sister's apartment with the gun (looking for J.R.), Kristin calmly offered her a drink, with the knowledge that she was drunk and would most likely pass out. Once that happened, after placing Sue Ellen back in her car, unconscious, Kristin took the gun and shot J.R. and planted the gun in Sue Ellen's closet the next day in order to frame her.

After J.R. hears everything and is about to notify the police, Kristin reveals she is pregnant with J.R.'s baby and threatens to reveal everything if the police are brought in. Facing the prospect of another scandal should his child be born in prison, J.R. decides the matter should be handled quietly.

Broadcast and reception

'"Who Done It'" resolved the "Who shot J.R.?" cliffhanger from the previous season, entitled "A House Divided". Some suggest that the resolution of the whodunit was delayed until the November "sweep" period as a ratings ploy by network CBS for the 1980-1981 television season.[14] Between 83 million and 90 million American viewers (or 76% of all U.S. television viewers in the United States on November 1980) watched the episode; the 53.3 Nielsen rating[15] was the highest rating of any television episode in U.S. history, a record broken on February 1983 when the final episode of M*A*S*H aired (on the same network). "Who Done It" still attained the second highest Nielsen rating for a single television broadcast in U.S. history, and remains third on the list of all-time most watched U.S. television episodes (behind the 1983 M.A.S.H. final episode and the 1993 NBC broadcast of Cheers series finale).

Dallas went on to finish at #1 in the Nielsen ratings for three of the next four seasons as a result of the publicity this episode generated, although since the final episode of M.A.S.H. in 1983, the resolution episode of Dallas 1980 cliffhanger fell into the second most internationally watched single U.S. television episode in history (watched by about 360 million international viewers in more than 57 countries worldwide during the November 1980 broadcast). The episode also marked the start of widespread usage of cliffhangers [16] as a core element of television season finales in the United States since the 1980s, and also remained as the highest rated Friday primetime broadcast in U.S. television history (at the time when Friday nights experienced a steep decline in viewership by the end of the 20th century).[17][18]


  1. O'Connor, John J. (1980-11-22). "Quotation of the Day". The New York Times. p. 2.47. No, J.R.'s beautiful wife did not do it. She was too obvious a suspect. The real culprit was her conniving sister, Kristin, the only other character in Dallas capable of equalling J.R. at viciousness. At 10:54 last night, Kristin, played by Mary Crosby, daughter of the late Bing, stepped forward to admit the dirty deed.
  2. Buck, Jerry (1980-11-20). "Even J.R. Will Be On The Edge Of His Seat Friday". Evening Independent. Retrieved 2012-04-14.
  3. White, Diane (1980-07-12). "J. R.'s Wild, Crazy Antics: [First Edition]". The Boston Globe.
  4. 1 2 3 Thomas, Jack (1980-11-21). "Place Your Bet On Who Shot J.R. Ewing: [First Edition]". The Boston Globe.
  5. Montgomery, Paul L. (1980-11-23). "Dallas Broke Rating Record, Network Says". The New York Times. p. A24.
  6. Stevens, William K. (1980-11-21). "Dallas Watches Nation Watch 'Dallas'". The New York Times. p. A16.
  7. O'Connor, John J. (1980-11-21). "TV Weekend; Finally, The Answer To Who Shot J.R.". The New York Times. p. C30.
  8. "About 82 Million Tuned In To See J.R.'s Assailant: [First Edition]". The Boston Globe. Associated Press. 1980-11-23.
  9. 1 2 "Who Shot J.R.? Most Callers Say Kristin Did It". The Miami News. 1980-11-21. Retrieved 2012-04-08.
  10. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Community Development Project. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved October 21, 2016.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Buck, Jerry (1980-11-21). "Did This Man Shoot J.R.: He's a 500-To-1 Shot, But Then Again, Who Knows?". Evening Independent. Retrieved 2012-04-08.
  12. O'Connor, John J. (1980-11-22). "Quotation of the Day". The New York Times. p. 2.47. Few characters escape the scriptwriters' calculated finger of suspicion. Gary Ewing (Ted Shackelford) was presumably in the clear because he was in California busy with the spinoff series Knots Landing. His promiscuous daughter Lucy (Charlene Tilton) appeared to have spent the night in bed with a married college professor.
  13. Rosenthal, Phil (2010-11-20). "It's no mystery why TV cliffhangers won't die". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2012-04-15.
  14. McLean, Robert A. (1980-10-15). "A J.R. Solution Soon?: [First Edition]". The Boston Globe.
  15. Meisler, Andy (1995-05-07). "TELEVISION; When J. R. Was Shot The Cliffhanger Was Born". The New York Times. Retrieved June 14, 2012.
  16. Meisler, Andy (May 7, 1995). "Television: When J. R. Was Shot The Cliffhanger Was Born". The New York Times. Retrieved August 31, 2010.
  17. News: Election 2006, The Austin Chronicle
  18. Goodman, Tim (October 10, 2007). "Saturday night is dead, yes, but Friday, too?". San Francisco Chronicle. pp. E1. Retrieved February 7, 2012.
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